Michael Woods/Associated Press
If a NBA team has a defense with any leaks to plug or cracks to repair, the 2020 draft class probably has a fix.
Targeting a prospect who shines on basketball’s less glamorous end may not seem the most exciting investment to casual fans, but for those subscribing to the theory that defense wins championships, the potential payoff is obvious.
Point prevention is just as important as point production, if not moreso given the abundance of good-to-great scorers relative to the amount of good-to-great stoppers. After piecing together a mock first round, we’ll spotlight three of the best defenders in this draft.
2020 NBA Mock Draft
1. Golden State Warriors: Anthony Edwards, SG, Georgia
2. Cleveland Cavaliers: LaMelo Ball, PG/SG, Illawarra Hawks
3. Minnesota Timberwolves: Isaac Okoro, SF/PF, Auburn
4. Atlanta Hawks: Obi Toppin, PF/C, Dayton
5. Detroit Pistons: Onyeka Okongwu, PF/C, USC
6. New York Knicks: Killian Hayes, PG, Ratiopharm Ulm
7. Chicago Bulls: Devin Vassell, SF, Florida State
8. Charlotte Hornets: James Wiseman, C, Memphis
9. Washington Wizards: Deni Avdija, SF/PF, Maccabi Tel Aviv
10. Phoenix Suns: Tyrese Haliburton, PG, Iowa State
11. San Antonio Spurs: Cole Anthony, PG, North Carolina
12. Sacramento Kings: RJ Hampton, SG, New Zealand Breakers
13. New Orleans Pelicans: Aaron Nesmith, SF, Vanderbilt
14. Portland Trail Blazers: Patrick Williams, PF, Florida State
15. Orlando Magic: Kira Lewis Jr., PG, Alabama
16. Minnesota Timberwolves (via Brooklyn Nets): Tyrese Maxey, SG, Kentucky
17. Boston Celtics (via Memphis Grizzlies): Theo Maledon, PG, ASVEL
18. Dallas Mavericks: Saddiq Bey, SF/PF, Villanova
19. Milwaukee Bucks (via Indiana Pacers): Leandro Bolmaro, SG/SF, Barcelona
20. Brooklyn Nets (via Philadelphia 76ers): Jaden McDaniels, SF/PF, Washington
21. Denver Nuggets (via Houston Rockets): Robert Woodard, SF, Mississippi State
22. Philadelphia 76ers (via Oklahoma City Thunder): Tyrell Terry, PG, Stanford
23. Miami Heat: Nico Mannion, PG, Arizona
24. Utah Jazz: Precious Achiuwa, PF/C, Memphis
25. Oklahoma City Thunder (via Denver Nuggets): Jahmi’us Ramsey, SG, Texas Tech
26. Boston Celtics: Aleksej Pokusevski, PF, Olympiacos II
27. New York Knicks (via Los Angeles Clippers): Tyler Bey, SF/PF, Colorado
28. Toronto Raptors: Isaiah Stewart, C, Washington
29. Los Angeles Lakers: Tre Jones, PG, Duke
30. Boston Celtics (via Milwaukee Bucks): Jalen Smith, PF/C, Maryland
Top Defensive Prospects
Isaac Okoro, SF/PF, Auburn
When a draft prospect has top-five buzz without top-five statistics (12.8 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists per game), that’s often a sign the player has elite potential on defense. It’s clearly the case with Okoro.
It’s possible his offense never comes around. He doesn’t resemble a shooter in any aspect (20 threes in 28 games, 67.4 free-throw percentage), and he isn’t an off-the-dribble threat. He also lacks burst on the ball, so he could have trouble getting past his defender.
But he’s in our top five for a reason. The 6’6″, 225-pounder could be the best defender in this draft, and he has all the necessary versatility to thrive in the modern game. He’s strong enough to battle bigger players in the post and nimble enough to stay with guards on the perimeter. He’s equally disruptive off the ball, whether he’s simply executing on-time rotations or jumping into passing lanes.
There are also scenarios in which he becomes an interesting offensive player. His strength and athleticism help him finish at the basket, and he’s shown flashes of pick-and-roll creation and spot-up shooting. The possibility of dominant defense is the reason he’s on NBA big boards, but spending a top-five pick on him probably requires a decent amount of belief in his offensive upside.
Onyeka Okongwu, PF/C, USC
The biggest thing working against Okongwu might be his position. He might offer as much two-way potential as anyone in this class, but he’s still fighting against the devaluing of NBA bigs.
That said, his defensive skill set is tailor-made for the modern game.
He can handle the traditional duties tied to the position in terms of glass-cleaning and rim protection (11.3 boards and 3.5 blocks per 40 minutes). If he keeps bulking up his 6’9″, 245-pound frame, he’ll hold his own as a low-post defender, too. But his agility is what has scouts salivating, since that should allow him to fit the trendy switch-heavy defensive schemes at the next level.
“Okongwu has elite timing as a shot-blocker and projects as a switch-all pick-and-roll defender,” ESPN’s Jonathan Givony wrote.
Okongwu is the type of player who can anchor the interior and improve a team’s perimeter defense. He has a chance to be the first big selected.
Devin Vassell, SF, Florida State
With the appeal of three-and-D wings at an all-time high, Vassell shouldn’t wait too long to hear his name called.
Since this is the NBA in 2020, most draft discussions will start with his shooting. He shot a blistering 41.7 percent on three-pointers over two seasons with the Seminoles, and he proved just as potent shooting off the catch or the dribble. As a 6’7″ swingman with good elevation and a high release point, he’ll be able to get his shot off essentially whenever he wants.
But we’re here to talk defense, and that’s where Vassell shines even brighter.
His instincts are already advanced, and he maximizes their impact with a great motor, good length and agility. He doesn’t miss rotations, he’s always quick to close out on shooters, and his ability to diagnose plays on the fly means he can cause opponents’ actions to malfunction. In 30 games last season, he tallied 42 steals and 29 blocks. He can handle guards and wings right now, and if the 194-pounder gets stronger, he could battle smaller bigs, too.
“[Vassell] comes in with a really high floor at a position and role where teams fling $10 million a year deals at even mediocre alternatives,” The Athletic’s John Hollinger wrote. “He could be a plug-and-play starter for a decade.”